Should developers protect gamers from themselves?

Another gamer is dead after an excessive marathon session, prompting questions about the dark side of business models designed for engagement and addiction.

Last weekend, an 18-year-old man booked a private room in a Taiwanese Internet café and started playing Diablo III. After 40 hours of playing without stopping to eat, he collapsed and died. It's hardly the first time something like this has happened, and it's not going to be the last, either.

Is there a way to curb unhealthy playing patterns without imposing strict limits?

Blizzard released a statement, appropriately expressing sadness at the man's death and declining to comment on the specifics. The company did add this bit, though: "While we recognize that it's ultimately up to each individual or their parent or guardian to determine playing habits, we feel that moderation is clearly important, and that a person's day-to-day life should take precedence over any form of entertainment."

Unfortunately, the industry is essentially giving us mixed messages on this point. Sometimes, those mixed messages are overt, such as with Sony and the PlayStation Vita. In ads, Sony tells us to "Never Stop Playing." But in the user manual, the message has somehow changed to "Take a 15 minute break during every hour of play."

Most other times, as with Diablo III, the mixed message stems from the game's core design. As games shift from offline goods to online services, the business model is changing in step. The focus is no longer on the initial purchase. With free-to-play and Facebook games, there's no initial purchase to even consider. Now the industry is turning increasingly to the subscription fees, downloadable content, and microtransactions that follow. The one thing all of these emerging models have in common is that they all depend on a continuously and deeply engaged player base, because customers won't be spending money on all these supplemental bells and whistles if they're not still playing.

Developers design games to maximize player engagement…It's not about "fun" so much as it is about keeping players compulsively clicking buttons.

As a result, developers design games to maximize player engagement as a prime directive. It's not about "fun" so much as it is about keeping players compulsively clicking buttons, bugging social contacts for help, filling up progress bars, and ensuring that there's no bottom to their particular rabbit holes. What's more, the games are frequently set up to dole out exclusive rewards to the most devoted players, whether that's with long-term achievements, higher ranks, or custom outfits to set the most enthusiastic players apart from their moderate peers. Whether this is "rewarding the fans" or "encouraging an addiction" is a matter of perspective, but it clearly runs counter to the message that moderation is important.

That raises a key issue here, and one we'll hear plenty about so long as gamers keep dying after indulging their hobby to the exclusion of all else: Exactly what obligation does the game industry have to protect gamers from themselves?

One simple answer is, "none at all." Publishers make a product, gamers buy it, and they should be free to enjoy it however they see fit. Even if that means enjoying it in a self-destructive manner. That puts games on a spectrum with a multitude of other industries that sell potentially harmful things, including medicine, tobacco, alcohol, fast food, and even water. And there's a slippery slope about how much regulation (whether imposed by government or the companies themselves) is appropriate for these goods. Toddlers probably shouldn't be drinking Night Train, and Evian shouldn't require an ID check; the rest will be a bit trickier for everyone to agree on.

There's a significant difference between a useful product with the potential for abuse, and a product designed from the ground-up to facilitate abuse.

On the other hand, there's a significant difference between a useful product with the potential for abuse, and a product designed from the ground-up to facilitate abuse. Take Zynga's games for example. The free-to-play company listed a number of risk factors in its annual report, among them, "We rely on a small portion of our total players for nearly all of our revenue." It's been reported that fewer than 10 percent of Zynga players ever pay a dime to the company, and the most lucrative 1 percent account for more than 25 percent of sales. So what's stopping a company like Zynga from designing its games around that 1 percent, from targeting the cross-section of their audience most susceptible to addiction, exploiting those least able to practice moderation?

Given the abundance of information companies like Zynga and Blizzard collect on their customers and the control they exert over the game experience, couldn't they use those to do more than just take their money? Why will these companies prevent a customer from playing because he doesn't have an online connection, but not from killing himself--not from the 40-hour marathon that finished him off or the undoubtedly numerous excessive play sessions that preceded it? Is it so unreasonable to limit a player's time on a game to no more than 18 hours a day? Couldn't these businesses get in direct contact with those players and suggest taking a break? Maybe point out to them how far outside the boundaries of normal play they've gone? Surely there's something that could be done to try and reduce the number of these tragedies without infringing on an individual's right to make terrible life decisions.

So I ask again, what obligation does the game industry have to protect gamers from themselves? I'm not going to pretend I have the answer, but it's a question I think absolutely everyone involved--especially those whose businesses benefit from the addictions and compulsions of others--should ask themselves.

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0 comments
PCsama
PCsama

once i read about a newborn baby died because his parents FORGET to feed him cause they were plying video games

hhmmm it's a good ideah to take a break 15mins after 1 hour playing ..

we all gamers and we also played for long hours but there's' time to stop to back to realm of real life..

you maybe a (father/mother) , a(husband/wife) , roommate or even a ( teenager/child) we all have responsibility to ourselves and to the others

and for the games' companies for their online-games at less stop working on game's servers at leas 15-30 mins every 10 hours with a notification for breaking to force addicted players to take break too

LanceCypher
LanceCypher

While I do think that time spent on games is on the individual, I also agree with Brendan that limiting play-time to 18 hours a day is by no means unreasonable. It's not likely to happen, but it's also not such a bad idea. Even from a solely-logical business standpoint, they can't make more money if their investors are dead. I won't even try to address the problem of developer-responsibility, because people seem pretty bitterly divided, but I will say that if a person can't help himself, he by definition needs help. If a developer happens to be the one to draw the line, so be it.

cynicalundead
cynicalundead

I think if you don't have the sensibility to know, "when to say when,"  take care of yourself, take care of bodily needs, and take a break because you are playing a game non-stop for 40 hours, you might be better off dead. I know that sounds blunt and maybe a little rude, but come on, if you are gaming that much, you have very serious problems and are avoiding life to some affect anyway.

MilkyChocolate
MilkyChocolate

So-.. what's the solution? Make crappy games so people can't get addicted anymore?

green_abobo
green_abobo

yet another reason why the shift to digital goods & online only services is not the way to go.

 

mmorpg-style games arent good to begin with, because there is no "end". of course people are going to abuse it, because theres always someone "better" then them.

 

 

Blackarrow1020
Blackarrow1020

People should know that they will harm themselves if they don't eat and sleep. The industry shouldn't do anything. Saying that the game should lock you out after so many hours should not be done. If you want to play for more than 18 hours, that's your choice. If it leads to you harming yourself, that's on you, and cannot be blamed on anyone else.

chrisrooR
chrisrooR

I don't see what's unreasonable about some sort of built-in control that limits gameplay to 18 hour sessions (which is still pretty unhealthy), and forces the user off the game for a couple hours, encouraging sleep/rest of some kind.

 

Personal responsibility only goes so far, and the online game industry needs to realize there are people who are predisposed to addiction.

Evil_Noodles
Evil_Noodles

Maybe they could use their DRM to limit usage periods, like every 6 hours the game forces you out of the game for 30 minutes or such. I guess it works on paper, not so sure in practise.

brent_hall
brent_hall

If someone is stupid enough to kill themselves then its natural selection. Its no ones fault but this dudes that hes dead

Carlito2222
Carlito2222

More of these articles please! This topic must stay alive! I am a core gamer, and I  want to fight for a nice community. Because I also want to feel me at home in this community. But that's not always the case. 

 

I was really shocked when I read some of the reactions on your article. Some people really don't have any empathy with another human being (who clearly had a mental problem). Their view on the world, civilizations, common people,... is so narrow. I agree with andrewwittmaier that this topic can not just be isolated to the gaming community. But I like to give you a gaming experience example:

 

I like playing shooters.  

I like competition.

And I also like team play.

 

But nowadays it happens rarely that I can enjoy these 3 things at the same time in an online multiplayer match. No, I experience often that a member of the same team is shouting specific wrong words at me or another team member. And bad playing is really not always the cause. If you don't do the things they want you to do, it's bad. 

 

Maybe I'm to naive. But the last months I always give that player a bad review and I also explains my thoughts in a personal response to him. I've never got an answer. (Maybe because of my bad English :-), it's only my fourth language). I think most of the abusive players really don't care.

 

They are anonymous. They only want to enjoy theirself. And that's their good right. But like in any community you have rights and duty's. And I will enjoy more when I know that another player is enjoying it too (also when he is my opponent). Other people not ???

 

I like to see the gaming industry as an art form. But in contradiction to other art forms, gaming is very accessible. And that's a good thing. It means that there is a wide variety in the community. Like I mentioned, you have the right to be a gamer, but please also respect the other gamers and their differences like gender, age, race, culture, sexual preferences and also mental health. 

 

I read a comment on this website-forum that the world will be a better place without this player who died being compulsive gaming. Must I say more....................

 

Majspotatis
Majspotatis

That guy really played on hardcore difficulty

alm80
alm80

You can't protect an idiot from himself. He'll find his addiction be it games, drugs, alcohol or something else...

aamir69
aamir69

Answer is NO. Lets not waste any more time reading this article and head back to playing Diablo 3 :D

Sibbzilla
Sibbzilla

People need to be resposible for their own actions. We live in a world where its always someone elses fault and it needs to stop.

WillyChong
WillyChong

@ JDFS This poor sod is not a gamer, he is a game addict, and I felt kinda sad for him to die, but then, why die over a game????? Its not funny to see a person die, yet ironically its funny he died over something so non-essential to me. But yeah, in some countries people will enter a stage known as the rebellious stage, family harsh restriction is one of the major factor, and he may or may not endured such discipline background, but he failed to take his own personal responsibility, decided that long hour gaming is the best way to escape the harsh reality or strict discipline, harsh reality. I know that because I've been there, and only personal critical thinking the only way to save yourselves, your parents may tried to lock you up, but once releasing it, its back to the gaming addiction, no self discipline, not worth saving, sad but true.

WillyChong
WillyChong

I thought this s supposed to be a personal responsibility?!? If you played a game and die because of it, congratulation, you just failed your mother, you father, you ancestors because of Diablo III, a game with no actual reason to play for more than 2 hours, what the hell is wrong with these people? I mean, a Taiwanese, 18 years old, just finished High School to die because of gaming?!? Wow, its kinda incredible to  see such incredibly lame, stupid people still existed in this world, is even amazing that he actually able to booked a private room and can't order food or walk out to eat.

 

Thank God, i was nearly killed by Dota, but my rethinking of my future save my life. Now I can see many more wonderful games while not actually play it unless its really worth and not enslaving me for hours.

Digital_DJ_00
Digital_DJ_00

All he needed to do to stay alive was simply eat & drink something... This wasn't a case of serious addiction, after all - even heavy smokers know that they need food. This was a case of fatal negligence. Just take a 10 - 15 minute break every 5 hours to eat & drink something while pacing around your room to prevent possible blood clots. He didn't die of addiction any more than someone dies of simply ignoring the body's need to prevent starvation... I won't be surprised if internet cafe's start "requiring" their customers to eat a meal if they have a computer reserved for more than 5 hours. 

jackson2415
jackson2415

When did people stop taking responsibility for themselves?

 

If you're fat, you didn't exercise and you ate fatty foods. If you got lung cancer from smoking, you smoked cigarettes. If you died from alcohol poisoning, you drank too much. There is no one else to blame but yourself. 

 

It's called PERSONAL RESPONSIBILITY.

stewarty77
stewarty77

I could only manage about 2-3 hours of constant play without my eyes starting to get tired but 40 hours straight is just insane in the membrane.  Also he must have been busting for a hit and a miss.

noscope-ak47
noscope-ak47

As far as I know the person that did this was an adult. They should have been able to stop unless they were mentally unstable. We all play games we enjoy but normal people play for a bit and then stop to eat or just have something else to do called LIFE. Now anybody that is has a screw loose should not make it bad for the rest of the asian people that know how to hit the exit button. Not sure why brendan feels nut jobs should affect what normal gamers do. I don't buy that omg this horrible my heart bleeds bs he was on. He is old enough to know better and smart enough to know normal gamers don't do this. This problem is minor to put it mildly, nothing for him to hype and he sure don't look asian to me. So we get it you wanted us to say your stupid and create comments well done.

 

theperm
theperm

I think they should build in a timer in each game that will shut the game off automatically after 4 hours of play and not allow you to turn it on again for another 4 hours.  They should then add in a feature that the computer spits out a hot meal after the four hours and a nice comfy pillow.  They should only institute these features in Asian countries.

 

commander1122
commander1122

and that's the bottom line stone cold say so!

ET3D
ET3D

I haven't read all the replies, but there's a common thread saying that gaming companies need not care any more than other industries with addictive products and general callous comments regarding people's deaths. It bugs me that people care so little about others that they're arguing that people deserve to die and arguing against doing anything to help them.

 

These people are also wrong about the regulations in other industries. Alcohol cannot be sold at certain hours in many places, dangerous drugs need doctors to approve them, and casinos can be fined for advertising to self proclaimed gambling addicts. In an industry where direct measurement of involvement is easy, why not do what Brendan Sinclair suggest, check a gamer's behaviour and apply measures to prevent the gamers from reaching an unhealthy point?

jose2390
jose2390

I just finished watching that GameSpot video called, "This week in gaming July 21, 2012" And I must say, I totally agree with Mr. Brendan Sinclair. There is a serious lack of empathy in the hearts of many gamers nowadays. Gaming addiction is just like any other addiction. These developers are aware of this, but their main concern is their pockets, not the players themselves. I been playing video games since the days of Atari 2600, and I must admit, I have never seen anything like this before. Back then, companies took their time with their games (better games, my view) unlike Activision who keeps pumping out Call of Duty every year, simply because they want to take advantage of those who are addicting to that franchise. I believe that the responsibility should fall on the laps of the companies and gamers too. If the companies take gaming addiction seriously, the rest of that responsibility should be placed in the gamers hands. 

moonlightwolf01
moonlightwolf01

Developers, players and publishers all play a role in this. Players need the good sense to take a break but when developers create highly addictive gameplay they increase the chance of players loosing that good sense. Publishers are even more at fault than developers because they push devs to produce ever more addictive gameplay and push business models that facilitate the need for addictive gameplay. (note all the pushing of free2play by EA recently) I want games to be fun to play but I don't want to pick up a habit. Look at the tobacco industry or the alcohol industry do we really want gaming becoming like that.

VintAge68
VintAge68

Personally I don't think developers are responsible here, excessive playing is entirely a player's own responsibility (though most people won't even have the possibility to play 18 hours a day). But the same sort of excess exists also in sports where people might also die from overdoing exercise or doping.

diabolik_023
diabolik_023

- take the number of people in the world... compared to gaming related deaths , i am surprised there aren't even more idiots that lost their life... i call it : natural selection

 

- true, is a sad thing to hear about someone's death but to be fair, death is just part of life and if you lack basic sense to EAT once a day at-least, well... you'll probably never make it to old age.

 

- true, companies make profit on our addictions... like car makers, tobacco companies, medicine... even the government makes us pay taxes for various addictions, right ? ... so who can protect us from them ? , the answer is US (not the U.S.A. but ourselves ;) ) and our parents by the education and cultivated sense of moderation and responsibility.

 

- not law to bind companies ( more of guidelines... ), but law to force parents learn to be better at parenting.

 

Those were my 2 cents.... for now.

Doom64
Doom64

Some people play games for fun.

Some people play games to Escape from the harsh reality of Reality.

Some people play games because they're hopelessly addicted to it.

 

The same exact things can be said for doing drugs and drinking. Both of which are for the most part up to the individual choosing to do these thing. If a person drinks to much and dies from being intoxicated its the person who did it fault no on elses, there are warnings everywhere for it Drink responsible etc. No one tells you to do it or stops you from drinking to much if you choose to do so. Why should developers have to help out a person who chooses to play a game so much that they do not eat or sleep and end up dieing from it. It was there decision they did this, it was there fault that they died no one elses.

JDFS
JDFS

There's a bold line between smart gamers and stupid ones... this one is stupid and stupid should never be considered, period.

TruSake
TruSake

WTF, if he's that much of an idiot, then there's not much of a loss. Go out, enjoy life, get a girlfriend. Games is just a passtime when bored at home, is not to become your life... or your death!

joju_australia
joju_australia

I have learnt to AGREE to a great arguement. This article clearly showed that. I think people should be more responsible to THEMSELVES, unfortunately like with any OTHER addictive personality disorder, society will always put the responsability to the companies. Look at what has happend to the Tabacco industry. If you are stupid enough to smoke and maintain your addiction, well you pay for it. However, governments have pushed laws to make those companies put up warnigs to their packaging to pre empty themselves with the responsability. GAMING can be an addiction.

Lausanna
Lausanna

Okay...I love gaming as much as the next guy. I play addictive games. MMOs. Progression-heavy single player games. That sort of thing. But I also have a real life, and I'd rather have that real life then that 10-billion-whatevers achievement. I mean, I'm sorry the dude's dead but come on. It's called self control. Get some.

metzenlord
metzenlord

"So I ask again, what obligation does the game industry have to protect gamers from themselves?"

 

Have you seen the back of the box when you buy (or get games)? or something called "game manuals"?, 

All of them have very interesting content that most people don't even care about, but whats important lies in the first pages or the last ones (of manuals), they are called "Warnings".

 

Thats it, thats the legal obligation of the "game industry", see, they are limited by laws, they have to go by certain rules established by ourselves and if they go beyond that, they are fined.

 

Now, for moral obligation I recommend talking with the leader/father of the church you like, or you can ask your god later when the time comes (if you believe in that).

 

People die doing just about anything, going to the bathroom, eating, skating, driving, going out, staying home, etc., what you did fail to accomplish with this article is give a formal background of the death of the man.

 

How can you base an article on something so vague?, all we know is that he was playing Diablo 3 before his sudden death.....but...was he?....I sometimes play Diablo 3, but alt-tab to do other things, to smoke for example, isn't it possible that I die from a lung/heart failure because of smoking rather than for playing a game?.

 

Don't lose professionalism trying to get more viewers to these "news".

Klyern
Klyern

Hahahahaha, gaming industry?, theres no such thing, there are just a bunch of companies with a monopoly on gaming nowadays, it has been years since a respectable company raised from the ground up and not due to a fusion or something similar, and you think these guys have any morals?

 

waraoz

sknight175216
sknight175216

If I had to choose a way to die, gaming to death would be the way to go ha ha. This kind of reminds me of that whole Colorado shooting at the movies. Putting metal detectors at the movies isn't going to stop shootings. It's not the movie theater's fault that people are crazy the same way it's not Blizzard's fault people are crazy. How about blaming the individual as opposed to trying to place the blame on someone or something else?

Shiftfallout
Shiftfallout

I find this funny, sadly. I mean you would have to be some sort of masochist to enjoy playing Diablo 3, much less for 40 hours straight. D3 is pretty much garbage in regards to gameplay and cheap challenge mechanics.

LanceCypher
LanceCypher

By the way, I see a lot of people talking about 'personal responsibility', and that's fine, but a person doesn't magically acquire responsibility, it has to be learned. Maybe this kid's parents were irresponsible, and he didn't know how to be because he was never exposed to it himself. Maybe his friends were talking about how long they had played, and he wanted to test it. Maybe it was a bet, to see who could get the furthest in a week. My point is, people don't ever really know what effect we may have on others. Unless you know the exact circumstances of an incident, and are absolutely certain you haven't been even a small factor in a similar incident, I won't say you should shut up, but at least don't mock the guy. He's already got it bad enough; he's dead. I'm not trying to make anyone feel guilty, but I do want to put it into perspective for people who keep saying 'He deserved it' or 'It's better this way'. It probably wasn't just his fault.

game_gt3
game_gt3

 @chrisrooR

 even 18 hours are extreme. something like 8 is more appropriate.

nonfanboygamer1
nonfanboygamer1

 @Carlito2222

 They should not have to apologize because this happened while playing their game. People die more regularly while texting and driving at the same time. Do you think that paticular phone company apologizes for someone texting?

WillyChong
WillyChong

And I came form a background of strict discipline, only recently that was loosen once I gotten my Degree and understand the consequence of failing my subjects, still do pretty well for an modeler, hopefully won't be the one that cause another sad sod to die because of it.

chrisrooR
chrisrooR

 @jackson2415 This is true, to a certain extent. There are people who may be predisposed to become easily addicted to certain things. So addiction is relative. and some people fall into its' trap more easily than others. 

WillyChong
WillyChong

 @moonlightwolf01 No kids would listen, imposed discipline is the only to go, and hopefully in their rebellious states they were able to rethink what is right and wrng, either they turn for the worse or came back strong, even parents have no actual control of when Cyber Cafe are everywhere on anytime.

WillyChong
WillyChong

 @VintAge68 Surprisingly, asian gamers have the worse case, yesterday a Malaysia Chinese was send to a hospital after playing too much of the same game O_O, our health care minister is concerning and imposed restriction on how long cyber cafe permitted player game time, is that going to stop excessive over time gaming, no......... We got lots of irresponsible teenagers(I was one one), Cyber Cafe and plenty of time when we skip school. Personal discipline is the utmost important, cause game developers really does not care you on whether you die playing their game, once you play or buy their game, you are own your own. Not amount of warning can prevent from over-gaming.

theconniption
theconniption

 @metzenlord I think the issue the editor is dealing with goes beyond the death of the Korean gamer.  

bryjoered2007
bryjoered2007

 @Shiftfallout

 

D3's gameplay is one of the best parts about it . It has some big problems particualry in end game, but it's combat is awesome and far superior than any ARPG that has ever come out. It's not an awful game, generally fun, inferno is annoying grind I agree. Blizz will make more improvements to it than any other developer so give it a chance.

VintAge68
VintAge68

 @WillyChong Might be part of the usual risk-taking behavior proper to that age. If I had a son I'd surely prefer seeing him doing video games rather than motor bike racing or taking drugs, but as to teenagers it certainly is also the parents that have some responsibility here.

WillyChong
WillyChong

 @Aaronp2k  @bryjoered2007 Yeah dark soul is better, demon soul may be a little too punishing but Diablo 3, crap! As if imposed limitation is going to make me play this game.